The Curse of the Browsers, Online and Off

Bookstores promote browsing. Unfortunately, in our current click-and-buy age, people browse at a bookstore then buy online (if they buy). Leading to the demise of so many wonderful places of discovery for readers.

What happens when more books are printed digitally than appear in paper-and-cardboard editions? How will the casual reader, rambling through a website, find something that he or she might want to take a chance on?

There are quite a few sites where self-published authors can promote their books. But how effective are these sites (aside from their being useful just because any promotion is useful)?

Are people more inclined to buy when they see a physical copy of a book rather than a virtual copy? It could be that digital books don’t promote the romance of impulse buying (though readers of genre fiction tend to scoop up the latest by preferred authors). Someone mentioned to me the other day, on seeing my bookshelf-lined wall, that he tends to have a sense memory of reading a physical book, but when he reads something on his Kindle or iPad, he doesn’t have the same recall. He doesn’t know where he read the e-book, or what kind of sensation it might have struck in him. For him, the physical feeds the intellectual.

As for digital media, it can help people find out about newly published or popular works, but there is little follow-through. In other words, people look but don’t buy. It’s as if they were browsing the virtual bookstores and instead of heading off to Amazon or they just decided to forget books and buy sneakers somewhere.

According to Laura Hazard Owen in a post on Paid Content, “New research shows that frequent book buyers visit sites like Pinterest and Goodreads regularly, but those visits fail to drive actual book purchases.” Not good for people who are banking on building a virtual audience who’ll spend actual money on a digital book.

One way to help fix this is to rely on critics, amateur or professional, who can help steer readers – trusted voices whose opinion counts. If you’re building a platform for your ideas, you might want to consider recommending books to your followers. If they’re reading you because your message and your writing appeal to them, your opinion matters.

It’s got to be better than relying on Amazon reviews. At the same time, it’ll give you something else to discuss with your tribe. And to help sell books.

Bob Hughes
Author: Bob Hughes
Robert J. Hughes ("Bob") was a staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal for over a decade, specializing in culture reporting. He was the paper's theater reporter, wrote on publishing, the art and auction markets, television, music, film and philanthropy, and reviewed books.
  • Anonymous

    I pulled out a pile of some of my favorite books yesterday when I was researching a topic (and I had a few Kindle books on my computer open as well). But I couldn’t help but feel like I was surrounded by friends with that stack of hardbacks and paperbacks by my chair. There’s definitely something to be said for a physical book. But it makes me wonder if the next generation will lose that associative memory of holding books.

    I suppose success in digital publishing is going to require retraining readers a bit. Thanks for sharing!